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Blog Post | Financial Reform

As NY Brings Credit Bureaus To Heel, CFPB Arbitration Study Paves Way Toward New Protections | Ed Mierzwinski

Two big consumer stories so far this week offer hope to consumers victimized by credit bureau errors and, more generally, by an inability to take credit bureaus, credit card companies, banks or payday lenders to court when harmed. On Monday, New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman signed a groundbreaking agreement with the Big Three credit bureaus, Equifax, Trans Union and Experian. Then today, the CFPB released a report finding that consumer legal rights are infringed by small-print forced arbitration clauses in credit card and other contracts.  The CFPB will hold a webcast public hearing at 11am Eastern time today (Tuesday) to discuss the report's findings and next steps.

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Media Hit | Financial Reform

Credit Bureaus’ Deal to Improve Accuracy ‘Huge’ for Consumers

(Bloomberg) -- Buying homes, getting jobs and borrowing money will be easier after an agreement by the three biggest U.S. consumer credit reporting services with New York.[...] “It’s a sea change in the way the credit bureaus treat complaints,” said [U.S. PIRG's Ed] Mierzwinski. “The credit bureaus have been run by computers for years now. They’re going to have to hire more people and actually verify that what a creditor said is true.”

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Is Anyone Protecting Your Privacy Or Wallet? Turbotax? Anthem? Apple? The Government? | Ed Mierzwinski

As if recent privacy breaches at the online tax preparer Turbotax and the health insurer Anthem weren't enough, it turns out that low-tech hacks can trick the vaunted Apple Pay system into giving up cash to thieves, too. Meanwhile, while the administration's blueprint for a Privacy Bill of Rights in 2012 was excellent, its new legislative draft from the Department of Commerce could have been written by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. There is some good news on privacy, though.

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News Release | US PIRG | Tax

Achtung Baby! German Bank Settlement Could Include $490 Million Loophole

As the German-based Commerzbank approaches a settlement agreement to resolve allegations surrounding the bank’s role in illegal money laundering with sanctioned states, the Justice Department will need to forbid tax deductions for this corporate wrongdoing or the bank will likely deduct the payments as an ordinary cost of doing business. In that case, ordinary taxpayers would ultimately shoulder up to $490 million of the deal.

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News Release | Public Health

McDonald’s announces plan to cut overuse of antibiotics in chicken

McDonald’s announced a new policy today to curb the overuse of antibiotics in raising the chickens that ultimately become McNuggets or other McDonald’s products, within 2 years.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

Five Safety Breakthroughs in Five Years

On August 14, 2008, the CPSIA was signed into law after a deliberative process and overwhelming bipartisan support in both the U.S. House and Senate. The law includes strong product safety reforms that revitalized the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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An $18 Million Lesson in Handling Credit Report Errors

"Even after sending more than 13 letters to Equifax over the course of two years, Julie Miller could not get the big credit bureau to remove a host of errors that it inserted into her credit report. [...] So she tried suing. That worked. [...] “Big punitive penalties may help force the bureaus to upgrade their 20th-century algorithms and incompetent dispute reinvestigation processes,” said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the United States Public Interest Research Group. “But C.F.P.B.’s authority to supervise the big credit bureaus is one of the most significant powers Congress gave it.”

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Tax

New Study: 82 of Top 100 Companies Used Tax Havens in 2012

With Congress considering big cuts to public programs, U.S. PIRG released fresh evidence that the vast majority of large companies are dodging taxes by stashing money in offshore tax havens. In a study of the top 100 publicly traded companies, as measured by revenue, the study reveals that 82 maintain subsidiaries in offshore tax havens. Collectively, the companies report holding nearly $1.2 trillion offshore.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Higher Ed

Student Loan Deal Passes Senate 81-18, Will Put Students Deeper in Debt

Despite the threat that higher student debt poses to student borrowers, the Senate has twice beaten back attempts to extend the low 3.4 percent interest rate for student loans. Instead, the Senate negotiated a compromise, which passed today, 81-18.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Health Care

U.S. PIRG Testifies on “Pay for Delay” Before Senate Subcommittee

Today, Mike Russo, U.S. PIRG's Federal Program Director, testified at a hearing on “Pay-for-Delay Deals: Limiting Competition and Costing Consumers” held by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition and Consumer Rights.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB holds field hearing on prepaid cards-- all the fees, none of the protections | Ed Mierzwinski

Several members of the PIRG-backed Americans for Financial Reform are among the witnesses at a field hearing on prepaid cards that the Consumer FInancial Protection Bureau holds at noon today in Durham, NC. While reloadable prepaid cards are growing fast as an option for convenience, for the unbanked and for distribution of government and student benefits, so-called general purpose reloadable prepaid cards sold under a variety of brands have fewer consumer protections than credit cards (gold standard), debit cards (fewer protections), and payroll, government benefit and gift cards (some protections).The CFPB will announce a advance notice of proposed rulemaking to improve the situation.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

NY Investigates Banks "Forcing" Consumers To Buy Overpriced Mortgage Insurance | Ed Mierzwinski

It's called force-placed insurance for a reason. Your mortgage lender buys it for you and you are forced to pay for it, even if it isn't the best deal for you. When lenders purchase a product to "benefit" consumers, they often have numerous incentives to make the more expensive, not less-expensive, choice due to what's called reverse competition. That's a bad deal for you and a bad deal for the economy, but a good deal for the kind of sordid crony capitalism that relies on kickbacks, not better products. Fortunately, the New York Department of Financial Services (both banking and insurance) and the CFPB are both taking a deep dive into the forced-place-insurance mess.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

JP Morgan Chase Losses Could Speed Volcker Rule, Slow Other Rollbacks | Ed Mierzwinski

The silver lining in the JP Morgan Chase gambling (they call it "hedging") losses now predicted to reach $3-5 billion, not just $2 billion, is that Congress has slowed misguided efforts to slow or repeal important reforms to derivatives trading. Also, you can "like" or comment on my recent debate position  over at US News and World Report urging the Federal Reserve to use this latest big bank mess to implement a strong Volcker rule against risky bank betting with other people's money.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

JP Morgan Chase: $2 Billion Debacle Shows It May Be Too Big To Manage | Ed Mierzwinski

Last week the nation's largest -- and to date least vulnerable to attack for stupid bank tricks  -- bank, JP Morgan Chase, lost two billion dollars in a very bad derivatives bet. Now Chase's until-now-Teflon-coated CEO Jamie Dimon faces increased scrutiny over his own and his firm's loud and arrogant opposition to the Volcker rule and exchange trading of derivatives -- two Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms not yet implemented due to the obstinacy of bankers like him that might have prevented the loss. The episode also raises the question: Are the big banks too big to manage?

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Blog Post | Public Health

Medical Implant Recalls Raises Questions about 510K Review Process. | Nasima Hossain

Medical devices can range from bandages and medical clamps to surgical mesh and hip replacements. The medical devices industry is a $100 billion-a-year industry and works aggressively with the FDA to push thousands of devices onto the market every year.

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We're teaming up with big restaurant chains to stop the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms. Call on KFC to stop selling meat raised on routine antibiotics.

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